GPS watches are a fantastic way to keep track of your fitness and keep you keen to improve. By recording your progress as you run or cycle, these GPS watches will keep track of your path and distance; Combining this information with a range of instruments, such as pedometers and heart rate monitors, they can provide a wealth of information to keep you motivated and aware of how to improve.
The software packages that come bundled with many of these watches provide deep and intelligent statistics to help you reach your best. By giving you tangible graphs and numbers for your progress reveals how you improve over time, giving an incredible boost in motivation. Combined with on-the-fly updates on how you are doing, mid-run, it’s easy to see how these products can become such a game changer.
Whether you enjoy running, cycling or even walking, these watches are equipped with a whole suite of features to help you keep your competitive edge. These watches vary rather a lot more than a standard watch due to their wide range of features; So we’ve presented a break down of what we believe are the 5 best GPS watches available.
The Garmin Forerunner 405CX is one of the more expensive GPS watches. With extremely accurate GPS and a heart rate monitor built right into the body it’s certainly not an entry level model. However, it is a joy to use while out for a run. The watch is controlled by a touch sensitive bezel and screen, reminiscent of an iPod classic. This method of control seems a little odd and fiddly at first, but once you are running it makes great sense. After using the 405CX I can’t envisage another method of control that so well suits a GPS watch while running. The display is clear and easy to read and combined with the great User Interface the 405CX really stands out in terms of readability and control. These are really important features in a watch that is meant to be used while on the run.
One great feature of the 405CX is the ghost runner mode. The watch simulates a virtual running partner and lets you know how far behind or ahead of him you are. This is a fantastic and flexible method to keep you going as hard as possible. The heart rate monitor is easy to use, connect to the watch and as an added bonus works dry – some comparable products require you to wet the heart rate monitor before you use it which isn’t a great thing to have to do every day before your morning run. Although more expensive than some of the other watches, we felt that the 405CX was very well priced considering it’s great range of features.
While not actually a GPS watch, this wildcard is refreshing enough to deserve a special mention. Resembling little more than a rubber wristband, the Fuel Band is actually a very clever little device. Extremely minimalist and low-key most people would think little of it upon your wrist. It’s a sturdy little device and we weren’t particularly worried about damaging the band, it is much sturdier than it would initially appear. The spring clip conceals a USB drive to plug into your computer and combined with the software included with the fuel band and its pedometer you can track the amount of calories burned and amount of exercise you’ve taken over the day.
It can be worn all the time without looking out of place and the Fuel bar keeps you up to date on your daily amount of activity. Setting a goal for the day, the “battery” style bar slowly fills up, letting you know how close you are. When you hit your target a cheesy little “Goal” slogan shoots across the screen with a variety of messages. Believe it or not, I found it very satisfying and it certainly encouraged me to walk rather than get the bus.
Though not a fully fledged GPS watch, the Nike+ Fuel Band is subtle enough and cute enough to get you motivated even on days where you’d rather just hit the sofa and channel surf, because it’s always there and always letting you know how far off you are from your current goal.
The Timex Ironman is definitely the best value for money, although it’s not without its shortcomings. It offers a great range of training modes including interval training with warm up and cool down modes. These are a great addition for those who enjoy a bit of variety in their running habits, certainly just jogging until exhaustion can get very boring. It also can give a finish time based on the distance of your run and current pace which is great for motivation and racing. One of the shortcomings is that the GPS module is included in a separate arm band instead of built in. This isn’t a terrible shame but is worthy of note.
It’s a very easy watch to get up and running, although none of these watches are particularly hard for a reasonably tech-savvy individual. Finally, the Ironman had difficulty in finding a GPS signal in tight streets and thickly wooded areas on occasion. However, considering the extremely low cost of the Ironman and its relatively good range of features, it’s a great package and worth consideration if you’re only just starting to use GPS watches.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the rather expensive Polar RS800CX Run with a fantastic range of features and mindbogglingly comprehensive analysis software. It comes with a foot pod to add another dimension to your post-run analysis, adding data on gait and stride length. This allows you to break down even the most fundamental aspects of your running technique. Not only this, but it can give a rating as to whether you are over- or under-training on a scale from 1-9. The RS800CX is almost a personal trainer.
The RS800CX is a top of the range piece of kit and we would only recommend it to those who are very serious about running and fitness. Its price is high but you get absolutely everything you could want from a GPS watch. The icing on the cake is that it looks very cool and sleek compared to the other, slightly more chunky GPS watches we’ve discussed – other than the minuscule Nike+ Fuel Band of course. For the hardcore runners, this is the GPS watch for you.
Although not a GPS watch strictly speaking, fitness apps display far too much of an overlap not to touch upon in this article. We’ve decided to look at the most popular and successful app, Runkeeper. This is a great package which comes free – after buying the smartphone obviously- and it’s perfect for those with smartphones who are just getting into running.
A wide selection of features and good analysis software make it a solid app. The map display ensures that it is easy and simple to plan and review your path even during your run. A leader-board of all your friends is available too, which is great if you like having the added pressure; The more competitive among us may find slacking hard, which isn’t a bad thing providing you don’t have any Olympic athletes as friends. The Runkeeper website also comes with a diverse selection of different extra apps for many health related activities which is great to keep track of your fitness overall.
However, the app is very fiddly to use while running and the weight of carrying your smartphone does become a bother after anything more than a brief jog. Furthermore, the lack of a heartbeat monitor can make in-depth analysis of fitness a little tricky.
We feel that the Runkeeper app would provide a great base from which to work from. If you have a smartphone and are considering purchasing a GPS watch then try out Runkeeper first and see where it takes you. Then you can take a step back and think about where you might want to go from there.
If you enjoyed this article, why not check out our article on daily worn sports watches for the more active among us?